Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kitchen Reader: Soul of a Chef and the Hundred Page Rule

I have been dreading writing this post for weeks.  This should be my first book review for The Kitchen Reader.  The assigned read for this month was The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, and I regret to report that I had to invoke the Hundred Page Rule on this book.

What is the Hundred Page Rule?  It is a personal rule I have for books - if I am not enjoying a book 100 pages in, I allow myself to put it aside.  No apologies, no guilt.

The theory behind the Rule is simple: life is too short and there are too many books on my "to read" list.  I have previously invoked the rule for books that strayed into a subject matter I found uncomfortable (e.g., Philippa Gregory's Greenacre); books that were distractingly poorly edited (e.g., Michael Dobbs's Never Surrender - this should tell you volumes about my dedication to the Rule: I greatly admire Winston Churchill); books that didn't click with me because of where I was at a particular moment in my life (e.g., Karen Joy Fowler's Jane Austen Book Club and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason - I later enjoyed returning to the Bridget Jones sequel when I wasn't in the ooey-gooey early days of a relationship and could laugh at male foibles).

So why the Hundred Page Rule for The Soul of a Chef?  First of all, Michael Ruhlman is an excellent writer.  He writes with description more precise than the ingredient measurements for the most delicate recipe.  His own passion for the subject gives his words less the feel of a documentary and more the mood of an epic.  He tells the stories of the chefs he follows with the urgency of an episode of "ER".

And therein lies the problem (for me).

I'm in a season of life where my time between the pages of a book are some of the only moments I get to myself.  They are moments at the end of a usually packed day - and sometimes the only quiet ones I get.

I got so wrapped up in the palpable stress of Ruhlman's chefs that I found myself ramping up rather than winding down while reading.  Then I started dreaming about taking the Bar Exam again (a memory nearly eight years in my past and still the single most draining and demoralizing two days of my life).  That was when I called it. 

Invoking the Rule on this occasion taught me something about myself: for as much as I enjoy creating in the kitchen (and talk with admiration about a "recovering lawyer" who opened one of my favorite Atlanta restaurants) I'm a cottage cook kinda girl, not a city chef.  Cooking, for me, is a relaxation, a diversion (like reading) - not a passion or a calling.

For that bit of self-discovery, like the Rule, I make no apologies.  Although it does make me look even more forward to next month's assignment, A Homemade Life.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.


  1. Victoria, your honesty is refreshing. And I totally understand why you put this book down! Ruhlman does a great job at portraying the zeal and stress of the chefs he meets. I cannot even imagine living their lives; just reading about them was taxing enough! I laughed when Ruhlman said that chefs and "ordinary people" can't understand each other, because other people can't relate to the create-or-die mentality of the chef.

    I think next month's book will be very different. :)

  2. PS. Don't dread writing reviews. We don't mind if you criticise the books. Relax. :)

  3. Agreed! I wasn't a fan of one of the books we did either and I only caught a modicum of well-reasoned and thought out flack. :) I don't mind when people disagree with me. This is about having fun!

    Hope to see you at one of the chats. :)

  4. What a great rule! I didn't like the book much either - I got through the first parts in the same way I watch reality shows. By that I mean I find it fascinating to learn about other people's lifestyles when it's so completely different from mine. I am never going to be more than a hack in the kitchen, but this gives me a greater appreciation of what goes on when I go out to eat.